“Thank you for your informative article response regarding infusing witch hazel extract with dry herbs.
I noticed you said the shelf life of a witch hazel with alcohol in it would only last a few months. If I want to create this for friends and family members as gifts, I want it to last longer than that. Is there anything I could add to it to give it a shelf life of 6 months to a year without having to store it in the fridge?
Thank you for your time,
You are very welcome! I am glad you enjoyed the article.
Great question! I think to best answer your question, I will go over the shelf lives of all the different ingredients and products (witch hazel hydrosol, witch hazel extract, infusion, herb infused hydrosol, and herb infused witch hazel extract) and then go into some different techniques you can use to extend shelf life.
According to aromatherapist and hydrosol expert Suzanne Catty, the shelf life of witch hazel hydrosol (nothing else added, unpreserved) is eight months to a year. She states (in her book: Hydrosols–The Next Aromatherapy) that witch hazel hydrosol is moderately unstable and tends to bloom. So witch hazel hydrosol can last up to a year, or it may go bad very quickly.
All hydrosols (aka distillates) are sterile when distilled, but once they are handled, packaged, and used they can get easily contaminated. So hydrosols can have a shelf life of many months to a year or more, or they can go bad in days, depending on how they are stored and handled. When using witch hazel hydrosol, you have to be especially careful since it can easily go bad.
Witch hazel extract is usually the hydrosol with 15% alcohol. It has a shelf life of several months to a year or longer. Some companies state the shelf life of witch hazel extract is much longer. But in my experience, once it is opened and handled, I would use it up within a year (because of the shelf life and unstableness of witch hazel hydrosol, and since low amounts of alcohol in cosmetics tend to preserve for only short amounts of time).
When you infuse herbs into witch hazel extract, the shelf life is much shorter: only an estimated few months. Sometimes it will go bad faster and sometimes it will stay fresh longer. Shelf life is only an estimate. Refrigeration is recommended since it can greatly extend shelf life.
One reason why the shelf life is shorter is because you are basically making an infusion. When you infuse an herb into water, you are essentially making a strong tea. Teas only have a shelf life of maybe a few days, refrigerated. Hydrosols are composed of mostly water plus herbal constitutes, and many are antibacterial to various degrees. So infusing herbs into a hydrosol is kind of like infusing herbs into plain water. However, in my experience, herb infused hydrosols tend to have a much better shelf life than tea! I recommend using herb infused hydrosols within a few weeks, refrigerating them, or adding a preservative for a longer shelf life.
Since witch hazel extract contains 15% alcohol, the alcohol will help preserve the herb infused witch hazel extract. I’ve made herb infused witch hazel extract for myself (with no other preservatives aside from the alcohol), and I have had some last only a few months. I’ve had some go bad sooner. And other batches have lasted for several months. Shelf life is very variable. I’ve kept some out of the fridge and some in the fridge, and the ones stored at room temperature went bad much more quickly than the ones refrigerated. When using all natural cosmetics, it is always best to make small batches and use them up as quickly as possible.
Here are a few crafting tips that will extend shelf life: wear gloves when you are making products, and use brand new or sanitized bottles. And sanitize your equipment too. Package the herb infused witch hazel extract in bottles with misters (aka a spray bottle. A mister or spray bottle helps keep liquids fresh, since people won’t be directly touching the herb infused witch hazel extract when using it).
You could also increase the shelf life by adding more alcohol (like grain alcohol, grape alcohol, or cane alcohol. Or a high proof vodka, if you can’t find pure alcohol). But adding more alcohol is not recommended for facial skin care, since large amounts of alcohol can be too drying for many people. However if you are making the herb infused witch hazel extract as a deodorant or body spray, you can definitely add more alcohol to the mix! The more alcohol you add, the longer it will be preserved.
I highly recommend adding a more natural preservative or an eco cert preservative. I have had success in using the leucidal preservatives or geogard ultra (which is called many names but its ingredients are gluconolactone and sodium benzoate. Gluconolactone and sodium benzoate are used in many foods). In my experience, my products made with leucidal or geogard ultra have lasted 6 months to a year.
For the longest shelf life (several months to a year or longer) you may want to use synthetic preservatives. There are a few relatively benign synthetic preservatives on the market such as Cosmocil CQ (which is polyaminopropyl biguanide. This preservative was originally designed for the contact lens industry, and is often found in baby wipes) or Optiphen Plus (which is made with phenoxyethanol, caprylyl glycol, and sorbic acid. There is some debate about this preservative but I personally think that it is one of the better synthetic preservatives out there. It is often found in many natural based lines).
I hope that helps, and happy crafting! I am sure your friends and family will love their gifts!